2012 Hyundai Azera Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
May 16, 2012

With real design appeal, confident performance, and a true luxury-car ambiance, the new 2012 Hyundai Azera brings far more sophistication to the showroom, but doesn't lose its carry-over attributes of comfort and value for the money.

While Hyundai's mid-size Sonata and compact Elantra sedans are pretty widely recognized as smart, popular choices (and best-sellers), the same hasn't been entirely true for the Hyundai Azera. We never could warm up to the former Azera. While it “appeals to sedan shoppers on as budget who value comfort and interior space above all else,” we said, and Hyundai clearly put more effort into the tactility of the controls, and into the interior details, it fell short in a number of ways. Among them: a bouncy ride, bland styling, mid-pack safety, and bland styling.

But this year, Hyundai has finally given its larger sedan the right mix: The 2012 Azera gets a standout design inside and out, improved performance, and fully updated connectivity. And yes, it still offers a lot of features for the money.

The 2012 Hyundai Azera has a cohesive, dynamic design—and a deeper level of detail—than most other large sedans. Hyundai has positioned the 2012 Azera toward 'design-minded consumers,' and based on what we see outside and in, the Azera definitely hits an aesthetic high water mark. Like many of Hyundai's recent models, designers looked to build on the 'fluidic sculpture' theme, but there's been a lot of attention paid to the details, with nicely sculpted LED taillamps, side mirrors with build-in turn-signal indicators, and HID xenon headlamps. Inside, it's a direct interpretation, in a lot of ways, of the interior design we've seen developed in the Elantra and Sonata, with a Y-shaped center stack featuring a screen top and center, flanked by vents, with audio controls beneath that and climate controls just below. Throughout the instrument panel, and the rest of the interior, the Azera has a very distinctive two-tier layout, with some combinations pairing a lighter-tone lower tier and darker upper tier that matches the upholstery.

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The Azera is confidence-inspiring, with plenty of performance for style- and comfort-minded shoppers. The 3.3-liter 'Lambda' V-6 makes 293 horsepower, as well as 255 pound feet—on regular gasoline—and has a roller timing chain for durability and lower maintenance cost. It's a high-revver—with a higher specific output than other engines in this class—and makes its peak power at 6,400 rpm, just short of redline; but it also feels considerably more torquey at lower rpm compared to Hyundai's past V-6 efforts. Altogether, it's smooth and responsive, thanks in part to the six-speed automatic transmission, which includes a Shiftronic manual mode. The transmission has a wide range of gear ratios to allow quick takeoffs, strong passing ability, and relaxed cruising.

The electric power steering system in the Azera felt much better-tuned than that of the Sonata, or other recent Hyundai front-wheel drive products. It has a good sense of center, with weighting that builds predictably, and should be everything that comfort-oriented buyers expect. There's a MacPherson strut-type system, and a multi-link setup in back, but Sachs amplitude-selective campers not only help filter out minor bumps without adding floatiness.

Whether you're carrying family or business colleagues, the Azera has the seating space, smooth ride, and luxury-car ambiance to keep everyone comfortable. The 2012 Azera isn't just a large sedan; in terms of equipment, and also in terms of seating, ride, and interior appointments, it's a luxury car. Roughly the same length and width as the Acura TL, or about three inches longer than the Maxima, or quite a bit shorter than the Taurus or LaCrosse on the outside, the story is quite different looking inside: The Azera has more interior volume than any of those other models, as well as more cargo space than all but the Taurus.

Front seats are adjustable to a wide range of sizes, and we like how Hyundai has assembled the power-seat controls, Mercedes-Benz style, along the upper door trim. Tech Package models, in addition to heated seats, include heated-and-cooled ventilated functions. In back, there's lots of sprawl-out legroom, as well as just enough headroom for adults—just enough, thanks to two carved-out headliner recesses. Although the middle position isn't quite as spacious, and the roofline makes getting in and out more challenging than we anticipated.

In new IIHS tests, the 2012 Azera completely swept the ratings matrix, with top 'good' scores in all the subcategories of frontal and side-impact testing. and it's been named an IIHS Top Safety Pick. The 2012 model borrows some building blocks from the acclaimed Sonata mid-size sedan, and comes with nine standard airbags—including a driver's knee airbag and separate rear side-impact bags. Additionally, a rearview camera system is standard on all models.

For 2012, the Azera starts a whopping $6,605 above the base 2011 Azera GLS. But, it turns out, the equipment list of the 2012 Azera is comparable to—if not better than—that of the 2011 Azera Limited, which started about $2,000 less than the 2012 Azera (which costs $32,875, including destination). So there's definitely a price hike; it's just not a serious as some early reports let it on to be—and Hyundai is likely going to boost its residual values by getting rid of the base model. That said, equipment on the 2012 Azera is luxury-car impressive, with a nav system and backup camera standard, along with push-button start, proximity-key entry, power front seats, heated side mirrors, and heated front and rear seats—plus HD Radio, 450-watt audio, and all the connectivity you need. Add the Technology Package (for a bottom line of $36,875), and you add HID headlamps, larger 19-inch wheels, a big panoramic sunroof, a power rear sunshade, manual rear side sunshades, ventilated front seats, 550-watt Infinity premium Logic 7 sound with subwoofer, power steering-wheel adjustment, interior ambient lighting, and a keyfob-integrated memory system for settings.

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2012 Hyundai Azera

Styling

The 2012 Hyundai Azera has a cohesive, dynamic design—and a deeper level of detail—than most other large sedans.

Hyundai has positioned the 2012 Azera toward 'design-minded consumers,' and based on what we see outside and in, the Azera definitely hits an aesthetic high water mark for the class.

According to the company, it targeted a look that would be authoritative, elegant, and powerful—dynamic and assertive yet reeled in a bit, with an element of discipline and restraint.

Like many of Hyundai's recent models—and building on the 'fluidic sculpture' theme—the Azera has two distinctive side creases in the sheetmetal, which don't quite meet but together form a strong expression. In the Azera, one of them starts just behind the headlamps, flowing along the top of the fender and upward to the back of the front door; meanwhile, another starts just ahead of the rear door handle, flowing upward, then across and forming the actual decklid crease around the back.

On the outside, there's been a lot of attention paid to the details, with nicely sculpted LED taillamps, side mirrors with build-in turn-signal indicators, and HID xenon headlamps. The hood has a subtle extension of the grille's detail, lower airdams smoothly contoured but crisply detailed. The rear view—actually out least favorite, as it's a little slab-like—is saved in part by the wrap-around taillamps do play a part in making.

The layout inside the Azera is definitely more cockpit-like in front than in most other large sedans, but with the dash pushing far forward at the corners, it does afford some of the airiness that you'll find in some of the other more open designs. It's a direct interpretation, in a lot of ways, of the interior design we've seen developed in the Elantra and Sonata, with a Y-shaped center stack featuring a screen top and center, flanked by vents, with audio controls beneath that and climate controls just below. As in those other Hyundai models, there's a pinch point for the center console that, functionally, lines up with where you might splay your knees.

Throughout the instrument panel, and the rest of the interior, the Azera has a very distinctive two-tier layout, with some combinations pairing a lighter-tone lower tier and darker upper tier that matches the upholstery. We like the look, and appreciate the level of soft-touch and matte surfaces within reach of the driver and passenger. Interior brightwork is used sparingly, and when it is, it's a cloudy matte-metallic. Instead—in Tech Package Azeras, there's ambient lighting tucked under that top tier of dash and door trim, as well as in footwells, to bathe the interior in blue light.

The colors and themes inside and out remain quite conservative, though; of the eight exterior hues available, seven of them are hues of white, black, or gray—but we were impressed with the Venetian Red Pearl of our test car during a first-drive opportunity. Three interior schemes are available: Camel, Graphite Black, and Chestnut Brown, with the latter the more flamboyant of the three.

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2012 Hyundai Azera

Performance

The 2012 Hyundai Azera is confidence-inspiring, with plenty of performance for style- and comfort-minded shoppers.

While the larger, rear-wheel-drive Genesis only offers larger V-6 and V-8 engines, and the slightly smaller Sonata offers an all-four-cylinder lineup, the 2012 Hyundai Azera gets one powertrain: a 3.3-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission.

The new 'Lambda' engine—now with gasoline direct injection—is an all-alloy engine, incorporating dual continuously variable valve timing, four valves per cylinder, and double overhead cams, plus a three-stage variable intake system. It makes 293 horsepower, as well as 255 pound feet—on regular gasoline—and has a roller timing chain for durability and lower maintenance cost. In this latest-generation engine, Hyundai has worked to increase cylinder block rigidity, which reduces engine wear in various ways.

The V-6 has a dual personality of sorts. It's a high-revver—with a higher specific output than other engines in this class—and makes its peak power at 6,400 rpm, just short of redline, but it also feels considerably more torquey at lower rpm compared to Hyundai's past V-6 efforts. According to the automaker's power and torque chart, it's already making about 200 pound-feet at just 1,500 rpm.

Altogether, it's smooth and responsive, thanks in part to the six-speed automatic transmission, which includes a Shiftronic manual mode. The transmission has a wide range of gear ratios to allow quick takeoffs, strong passing ability, and relaxed cruising.

The electric power steering system in the Azera felt much better-tuned than that of the Sonata, or other recent Hyundai front-wheel drive products. It has a good sense of center, with weighting that builds predictably, and should be everything that comfort-oriented buyers expect.

There's a MacPherson strut-type system, and a multi-link setup in back, but Sachs amplitude-selective campers not only help filter out minor bumps without leading to less body control. Also, in front, special attention has been paid to side loading, and to reduce early loading going into corners—one of the key aspects that makes cushy luxury cars a damper on confidence and fun when you're on a curvy road. And while we actually had no curvy roads in our drive route, near Las Vegas, the front end of the new Azera does feel tighter, with fewer floaty body motions, than an Avalon, for instance. There's far less fore-and-aft motion under hard acceleration and braking, as well, compared to other softly sprung luxury cars.

9

2012 Hyundai Azera

Comfort & Quality

Whether you're carrying family or business colleagues, the Azera has the seating space, smooth ride, and luxury-car ambiance to keep everyone comfortable.

The 2012 Azera isn't just a large sedan; in terms of equipment, and also in terms of seating, ride, and interior appointments, it's a luxury car.

The front-wheel-drive Azera fits right in between the Sonata and Genesis in the Hyundai lineup, with its wheelbase a couple of inches longer then the Sonata, overall length 3.5 longer than Sonata, and a little added width. Yet in most ways it's a few inches smaller than the Genesis.

It's roughly the same length and width as the Acura TL, or about three inches longer than the Maxima, or a couple of inches longer than the ES 350. But that also makes it most of a foot shorter than the Taurus, as well as a few inches shorter than the Buick LaCrosse. Going by interior space, the story is quite different; the Azera has more interior volume than any of those other models, as well as more cargo space than all but the Taurus.

Front seats are adjustable to a wide range of sizes, and we like how Hyundai has assembled the power-seat controls, Mercedes-Benz style, along the upper door trim. Tech Package models, in addition to heated seats, include heated-and-cooled ventilated functions.

In back, there's lots of sprawl-out legroom, as well as just enough headroom for adults—just enough, thanks to two carved-out headliner recesses. If anyone ends up in the middle, they might not be as happy, as the headliner's lower there and the bench position is notably harder (the back of the center console is there, too). One other note: Getting in and out of the back seat isn't nearly as easy as you might expect it to be—especially for taller folks. You'll have to lean forward, and duck your head under the curved-down roofline—the price of the fashionable exterior styling.

Underneath the audio and climate controls, there's a large hinged bin (felted), with auxiliary and USB ports, and a hinged compartment next to the shift knob, containing a couple of cupholders. The space behind the center stack has also been used—a la Volvo—with a tray at the bottom of that, and the center console itself has the capacity to hide a camera or small purse. All doors include storage for cups and bottles, and the back of the front seats have map pockets.

Ride quality is superb, with only the most jarring bumps heard heard and felt in the cabin. And inside, it's quiet—very quiet—with nearly all road noise filtered out; likewise, you hear engine noise only when accelerating hard. The Avalon also has the lowest coefficient of drag (tied with the Avalon, at 0.28) of any large sedan, which helps keep wind noise at bay (and helps efficiency).

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2012 Hyundai Azera

Safety

The 2012 Hyundai Azera comes with an excellent set of safety features—including a standard rear camera system.

The all-new Azera hasn't yet been tested for safety, but it should fare better than last year's model, which hadn't earned top marks all around. The 2012 model borrows some building blocks from the acclaimed Sonata mid-size sedan, but since it's larger and substantially different, there's no way to extend the Sonata's excellent ratings yet either.

In new IIHS tests, the 2012 Azera completely swept the ratings matrix, with top 'good' scores in all the subcategories of frontal and side-impact testing. Withstanding 4.76 times its weight, the Azera also earned a 'good' rating. In any case, that was a substantial improvement over the previous (2011) Azera, which had earned 'acceptable' ratings for rear and side impact.

The Azera's standard safety kit is impressive; it comes with nine standard airbags—including a driver's knee airbag and separate rear side-impact bags—plus electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, and an impact-reducing front-seat design. Additionally, a rearview camera system is standard on all models.

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2012 Hyundai Azera

Features

Especially if luxury features matter, there's a lot of value in the 2012 Hyundai Azera.

If luxury and features for the money are still the priority, the 2012 Hyundai Azera still ranks as one of the top large-sedan picks.

In previous model years, the Azera has been offered in GLS and Limited models, with the Limited model offering 'the works' and the GLS having a more limited set of features and (what used to be) the smaller 3.3-liter engine (a 3.8 used to be included at the top of the Azera range, but today's 3.3 actually makes more power than that did). While it might look at first glance that Hyundai has raised prices on the Azera by several thousand dollars, with the new 2012 Azera, Hyundai has essentially dropped the GLS and made the former Limited the only trim.

So essentially, the top end on a 2012 Azera, including destination, is just $36,875.

As such, the Azera is offered in just two builds: Azera, or Azera with Technology Package. The base Azera includes the navigation system and backup camera system, push-button start, proximity-key entry, Bluetooth connectivity, power front seats, full leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated side mirrors, and heated front and rear seats. And the standard 450-watt Dimension sound system includes XM satellite radio, HD Radio, iPod/USB connectivity, and an auxiliary input jack.

The Technology Package adds HID headlamps, larger 19-inch wheels, a big panoramic sunroof, a power rear sunshade, manual rear side sunshades, ventilated front seats, 550-watt Infinity premium Logic 7 sound with subwoofer, power steering-wheel adjustment, interior ambient lighting, and a keyfob-integrated memory system for settings.

Hyundai emphasizes that in either of these two Azera guises, the Azera includes a host of items—like the navigation system—which are standard while they remain optional in some or all of rival models.

The standard seven-inch touchscreen navigation system in the 2012 Azera runs on a full WVGA resolution and includes a 90-day trial of XM NavTraffic, as well as 8GB of built-in memory for map data. It also includes information screens for audio and climate control, though all important controls for those have redundant, traditional buttons and dials below.

All Azera models do get Hyundai's subscription-based Blue Link system, which offers a suite of services like vehicle location; remote vehicle access; emergency and roadside assistance; turn-by-turn navigation; and traffic and weather updates.

Since the Azera is just dipping its toes into the true luxury-brand market, the only down side is that there are a few high-end tech items missing from the Azera's features lineup. Things like active parking, blind-spot systems, a head-up display, or active cruise control? None of them are offered here.

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2012 Hyundai Azera

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Hyundai Azera gets somewhat better gas mileage than most other large V-6 sedans.

The 2012 Azera has a revised, direct-injection version of Hyundai's 3.3-liter V-6, fitted to a six-speed automatic transmission, and thanks also to the Azera's improved aerodynamics this year it achieves EPA ratings of 20 mpg city, 28 highway, for a Combined figure of 23 mpg. And it has no requirement for premium fuel.

As in Hyundai's other models there's an Active Eco function that smooths out the throttle and transmission when cruising or accelerating lightly, allowing shifts to happen a little earlier and resulting in up to a seven-percent improvement in real-world fuel economy, according to the automaker.

On the other hand, Buick offers a new eAssist version of its LaCrosse, pairing a four-cylinder engine with a mild-hybrid system, to achieve a highway rating of 37 mpg. And in the upcoming, redesigned 2013 Ford Taurus, a new, more efficient turbocharged four-cylinder engine will top 30 mpg on the highway.

NOTE: The 2012 Azera is one of a set of vehicles found to have overstated fuel-economy numbers. Hyundai initially submitted figures of 20/29 mpg to the EPA, but the agency found the actual tested fuel economy to be 20/28 mpg. Owners can register with Hyundai to receive reimbursement for the gas consumed above and beyond expected levels; more details are found at HyundaiMPGInfo.com.

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